Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on Omaha.com
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By Sarah Baker Hansen
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
Abbey Cooks Magic Scones
Makes eight two-inch scones
Scones are the foundation of a great afternoon tea or garden party. This basic recipe is like magic. They are faster to make than a drive to your local coffee shop, lower in fat and can be adapted in an endless variety of ways. Create your own Abbey House brand to entertain guests.
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon frozen grated butter
½ cup cold milk
1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees and prepare a baking sheet.
2. Sift the dry ingredients three times into a large bowl. Rub the frozen grated butter into the dry ingredients until it feels like sand. At this point, add any of the ingredients you choose from the recipe variations. (See list below.) Add enough milk just until you get a sticky dough.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and lightly flour the top. Knead very gently once, then fold and turn the kneaded dough three or four times until it has formed a smooth texture. Pat the dough into a rectangle about 6 by 12 inches and then fold that rectangle into thirds.
4. Using a well-floured two-inch biscuit cutter, make six two-inch rounds. You can get two more scones from the scraps though they won’t be as tender. Alternatively, use a well-floured sharp knife to form wedges.
5. You can either brush the tops of the scones with milk or lightly flour.
6. Bake on a baking sheet for 8-10 minutes until the scones are lightly colored on top. Immediately place onto cooling rack to stop the cooking process.
Buttermilk scones: Add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda to the flour before sifting and replace the milk with buttermilk.
Cream scones: Add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda to the flour and glaze with cream.
Whole-wheat scones: Replace half of the all-purpose flour with soft whole-wheat flour.
Chocolate scones: Add ¼ cup of cocoa powder and sift with the flour, and add ¼ cup plain yogurt to the milk.
Glazed scones: Lightly brush preserves on scones before baking to create a sweet glaze.
Dried fruit scones: Add ¼ cup dried fruit (sultanas, raisins, currants, cranberries or cherries) and 1 tablespoon sugar before you add the milk.
Pumpkin scones: Add 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon baking soda and sift with flour, replace the milk with ½ cup of pumpkin puree, adding only enough milk to make sticky dough.
Fresh or frozen berry scones: Add ¼ cup fresh or frozen fruit, finely chopped.
Whole wheat and fruit scones: Replace half of the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat flour and add ¼ cup of fresh or frozen fruit.
Cheese and chive scones: Add ½ teaspoon cayenne to be sifted and then ¼ to ½ cup grated cheddar cheese and 2 tablespoons of fresh herbs before adding the milk.
Herb scones: Include 3 tablespoons of finely chopped herbs, such as parsley, dill or chives.
Easy Apple Charlotte
Makes four servings
Treat your guests to Apple Charlotte, a simple yet elegant English dessert. This is a dish noted for not being served on “Downton Abbey” in season one. The crust is made of sliced bread; it’s healthier than pie pastry and makes much less mess.
10 half slices of stale challah or raisin bread
2 medium cooking apples, peeled, cored and diced
2 tblsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
3 tblsp. light brown sugar
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
2/3 cup skim milk
1 tablespoon sugar
Icing sugar to garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and generously grease four ramekins.
2. Caramelize the apples by melting the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the apples, vanilla, lemon juice, brown sugar and cinnamon. Mix well and cook on low heat until the apples are tender and any liquids have evaporated. This should take anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes depending on the type of apples you are using. Stir occasionally to avoid burning. The mixture should have thickened and be medium caramel in color.
3. Combine the eggs, milk and sugar in a shallow dish. Mix until fully combined.
4. Using a 2 ½-inch round cookie cutter, cut out four circles from the bread which will serve as the base of the charlotte. Alternatively, use a clean ramekin and a sharp knife to trace and cut the circles. Cut the other slices of bread into rectangles about 1 inch in width. Cube, dry and store your bread scraps in an airtight container to be used for croutons or stuffing.
5. Lightly dip each circle in the egg mixture and place it in the bottom of each greased ramekin. Then dip the rectangles and stand them upright around the inside edge of the cup, extending above the rim. You will fold over the strips to make the lid. Each ramekin will use about six or seven strips.
6. Fill each mold with the apple mixture. Add a piece or two of bread to the top and fold over the edges so it is sealed completely. It should look like a pretty little crown. Sprinkle each top with a little sugar.
7. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown and puffed up. Allow to cool slightly, then run a knife around the edges and invert onto individual serving plates.
8. Use a sieve to dust with icing sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.
Both recipes courtesy of “Abbey Cooks Entertain” by Pamela Foster
The teas of “Downton Abbey”
All the teas that the characters on “Downton Abbey” might drink are available locally, said Tim Smith, who owns the Tea Smith shops in Omaha.
“They don’t grow tea in England, so most of the tea associated with the country actually comes from India and China,” he said.
English breakfast tea is a popular blend. Tea drinkers like it because it’s strong enough to stand up to sugar and milk.
Earl Grey, another traditional choice, has the distinct flavor of bergamot, a citrus fruit, and so is usually served black or with a slice of lemon. He said some tea drinkers prefer darjeeling, an Indian tea with a distinct flavor, or assam, a fuller-bodied tea.
“Loose-leaf tea is very affordable,” Smith said. “And it’s not like drinking tea out of bags. It’s much better.”
Mona Christensen, an Omaha tea enthusiast, said to brew tea, she first makes a concentrate and then adds boiling water to the strong base. She said the best tea is served in a china cup.
Christensen regularly plays host to teas in the General Crook House Museum at historic Fort Omaha. The Crook House has teas for a minimum of 12 guests. Drinkers can choose from a proper afternoon tea, a dessert tea or a cream tea.
For more information, visit www.omahahistory.org/museum.htm or call 402-455-9990 for reservations and pricing information.
“Downton Abbey,” the drama-filled British series that tells the story of the wealthy Crowley family and its servants, is back for a third season starting Sunday night.
And though many fans can’t wait to see if Matthew and Mary actually tie the knot, what happens to Bates and what schemes the Dowager Countess has up her lace-tipped sleeve, other fans might be more excited to see the cuisine the servants bring to the family and its guests.
Because, as any “Downton” fan knows, most of the drama happens during lavish, multiple-course meals at the table or over afternoon tea complete with homemade scones and petite sandwiches. Food, as it were, is a central character in “Downton.”
The cuisine on the show has led to the publication of two cookbooks — “The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook,” by Emily Ansara Baines, and “Abbey Cooks Entertain,” an e-book by Pamela Foster, who blogs about the show and its food at downtonabbeycooks.com. It also has spurred a renewed interest in the tradition of proper afternoon tea.
For the uninitiated, the show is set at a fictional Yorkshire country estate called Downton Abbey and tells the story of the aristocratic Crowley family and their servants in post-Edwardian England. The third season takes place in the early 1920s.
In a phone interview, Foster said the food scenes kept her coming back to the show during the first and second seasons, especially the annual holiday episode.
“It’s fun to connect the food we eat now to the food they would have eaten back then,” she said.
When Foster began work on her “Downton”-inspired cookbook, she started with afternoon tea. She said she thinks the custom of tea is an aspect of British culture that fascinates Americans.
Mona Christensen, an Omahan who led the Midlands Tea Society for 10 years, said it makes sense that the tea ritual is central to the drama at Downton.
“The women of that period spent a lot of time dressing and sitting and talking,” she said. “They didn’t have anything else to do. So tea became such an important part of their lives.”
Christensen said when the afternoon tea ritual began in the 17th century, green tea was in vogue. Later, black tea with milk and sugar became fashionable, and when Queen Victoria reigned, from 1819 to 1901, tea with lemon became the thing to drink.
Tea usually was served between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to take up some time between lunch and dinner, which didn’t take place until around 8 p.m.
A proper English black tea, Christensen said, is made with loose-leaf tea, not tea bags, and is quite strong. It can almost substitute for food.
Even so, the drink was served with fancy cakes; small crustless sandwiches filled with cucumber, smoked salmon or egg; and scones, a Scottish quick bread cut in the shape of a triangle that can be savory or sweet.
Christensen, who is a big “Downton” fan, said she expects tea to remain an important part of the show in the third season.
“Tea dances and garden parties became very popular in England in the ’20s,” she said.
Foster said the most popular recipes in her book are the ones that viewers associate with the show: The dessert that the cook flavored with salt instead of sugar, the chicken she dropped on the kitchen floor and another dessert with a recipe she couldn’t read because of her poor eyesight.
Many at-home cooks also have more interest in the simple food the servants ate than the fanciful dishes they served in the dining room.
“The way we cook now is so different,” Foster said. “We have all these modern conveniences. I keep trying to remind people that we should have some awe for those who took up service without electricity or a thermostat or refrigeration and a coal stove.”
She said Edwardian-era kitchens embraced some trends that are popular again today: growing food, finding ways to use scraps to cut down on waste and eating seasonally.
Foster, who lives in Canada, has already seen the third season of “Downton Abbey.” Without giving anything away, she said food remains a central theme in the show.
“There is a lot of throwback to the era of grand entertaining,” she said, “even though that period saw a lot of changes for the aristocracy. They still maintained appearances.”
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